Wednesday, August 10, 2011
The Cup: Jelly Jar or Chalice
How easy it is for us to forget that the Last Supper was not an informal meal. Never mind the long running debate over whether it followed the liturgy of the passover meal or of another form of sacred meal associated with the passover. At minimum it was undoubtedly a Jewish liturgical meal in which all aspects (the bread, the wine, and the vessels) were set apart for sacred use. If we adhere to the Passover context of the meal, then it is even less likely that the vessels used were simply everyday kitchen items. When Jesus bids His disciples to prepare the Passover, this was not a utilitarian function but the command to follow the ancient ritual from its first founding. As Jesus honored the Temple and the Synagogue (while at the same time cleansing the worship), we can expect that Jesus honored the time tested liturgy or ritual for the Passover that was familiar to Him and to His disciples. Then, as today, the vessels, foods, and meal are scripted and set apart for sacred usage.
The cup used by our Lord is quite properly called a chalice, it was most likely of precious metal or the best of household and not merely because of the material with which it was made, but because of its usage. From Passover to Eucharist this was the cup of the Lord by which He communed His disciples upon His very blood and through which he bequeathed to His Church this means of grace by which we eat, drink, and live. The hands that held this cup, as its contents, were holy and and blessed. It is of the very nature of the Eucharist we observe today that we honor the cup for what it bears to us -- the very blood of Christ. There is something wrong when we offer as the bearer of this blood anything less than our finest effort for what our Lord offers to us of His best and greatest sacrifice for us and our salvation.
In the same way, I fear that we have a utilitarian attitude toward the whole of worship. We act as if there is something special about a piety which eschews anything but the basics. We are not enhancing anything by leaving things bare or stark. In fact, we are doing just the opposite. We are detracting from the Word and the Table of the Lord by refusing to honor these means of grace for what they are. When the Scriptures decry those who honor the Lord with their lips but their hearts are empty, this is no justification for full hearts and empty lips. Words matter. Actions matter.
Many, many years ago I was part of a planning group for a Eucharist on campus where I went to college. The cruet was the bottle of wine. The cup was borrowed from the cafeteria. And we thought it was cool. I have repented the callous way I treated the things of God and I lament that a part of me ever thought this was good, right, or salutary. Yet too many seem perfectly content, even proud of the humility of circumstance and setting, when better is not only available but part of the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving that flows from the gift of Christ and the fulness of His grace and mercy in this Sacrament.
Or should we use a jelly jar for the cup.... and paper table cloths for the altar... well, at least we keep the pew cushions for our comfort and the HVAC set so that we are at ease in Zion... I just do not get it...